Thursday, January 31, 2008

Apple and Orange Pie: I Am Legend

When I compare the book and movie versions of the same story, I'm not interested in suggesting which is "better." That's comparing apples and oranges, and the book usually wins on that count. I'm interested in comparing how ideas are treated and what conclusions result.

In the newest movie version of the 1954 novel, I Am Legend, Will Smith’s character becomes legend because he saves humanity. His work and sacrifice results in a vaccine that will allow the small colony of uninfected humans to repopulate the world. They will remember Neville: he will become a legend.

The meaning of legend in the original story is quite different.

In the book, as in the Charleton Heston movie, Omega Man, at least some of the infected are not mindless zombies (those are outstanding zombies in the new movie, BTW). In the book, the infected essentially become vampires, and a certain segment of them learn to live with the disease with the help of drugs. They can come out during the day a little, but they’re mostly nocturnal. These “coping” infected start to build civilization again. They are the new humans; they are what’s “normal” now. And they are terrified of Neville. He has not learned that there are relatively normal people living with the disease, and he spends part of every day simply hunting and killing the infected during their daytime sleep. In the end, they catch him and execute him. Neville is dead, but he’s assured status as legend in the new society, not as a hero, but as a boogie man, just as vampires are legend in our society.

It’s great fun to read the original story and then watch all three movies:
The book has been recently reprinted, and the movies areadily available via Netflix.